15 April 2008

Robin Gibb Live

I Am On Time with Robin Gibb Live!
by Kristin Battestella

I was going to do Here at Last Live, but for once I am going to be somewhat timely with a review and do Robin Gibb With the Neue Philharmonic Frankfurt Orchestra Live! Say that three times fast! All us Americans have been whining about Robin’s recent lack of U.S. releases and appearances, so imagine my surprise when this CD and DVD were available at my Sam Goody! Recorded at a 2004 concert in Bonn, Germany this release is indeed a unique treat. I’ll focus mainly on the music, but sprinkle in a few DVD comments as well.

At first the orchestra overpowers Robin with the opening song Night Fever. Maybe they had some technical trouble to start, but the band’s music twists signify the interesting ride we are about to embark upon. Some parts you can’t tell it’s Night Fever! I can actually understand what Robin is saying, and on the DVD, he smiles!

These Germans can rock. I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You is mind boggling here. Almost, maybe if I listen to it enough, this version could surpass my penne ultimate Message version from Here At Last. Robin is in just the right tone with the orchestra, and the back up singers stay in the back where they belong. Although it sounds like they are saying ‘one more hour and my life will be true’! The ad-libbed ending and big finish are huge! Definitely a standout.

How Deep Is Your Love here is much better than the Capital Fourth version Robin did a while back. Maybe there was a little bit of touching up in the studio for the CD release, but Robin seems to have nearly hit the mark on singing these Bee Gees songs he didn’t used to sing lead on. The instruments are on form filling in for the falsetto sounds.

Despite being accustomed to the extra shrill echoes in the original Nights on Broadway, this version’s lack of shrills is acceptable. The orchestra plays all the notes to a T, and Robin very skillfully switches tones for the slow interlude. The whole place gets down with this one, the second longest tune.

Love Hurts is a very interesting song choice here. Sure Robin covered this classic of old for Magnet, but with so many Bee Gees songs to do, why do a cover? I expected the orchestra to really have something up its proverbial sleeve and really belt out some heartbreaking notes, but the big booms never really come on Love Hurts. Robin sings it totally sweet and the orchestra takes it all in stride. This one is so soft and nuanced it almost doesn’t sound live. This might be the only song here where Robin really let’s his voice out. Another standout.

Oddly enough, Massachusetts might be a miss here. Robin unnecessarily speeds up the pace, and he doesn’t belt it like we know he’s capable of belting it. It is funny though when his introduction is interrupted by a siren. This track is also a bit too short compared to all the others at four minutes plus.

I don’t really care about this Harold and his cutting in on My Lover’s Prayer. I want to hear Robin, but he sings okay I suppose. I really like how the starts and stops are taken to the next level on Prayer. Every pause is in just the right places, and the crescendos are on form. I’ve had this one stuck in my head now for days. Robin may have topped himself on the 97 version.

Robin tells the audience that there’s a twist to New York Mining Disaster 1941, but I don’t really hear it. It sounds totally cool and ominous and deathlike, as it should. I guess the music geeks in some of us knew what Disaster would sound like backed with a full orchestra. Say it with me now bassoon. A tough song to pull off considering it was originally done totally in three part harmony, Robin’s new mix takes the song’s focus off the background singers-thank goodness.

Harold returns and opens Please. I do like how there is a bit of talking back and forth between Robin, the band, and the crowd. Harold tells the audience to sing along, but I don’t think anyone does! Robin sings Please almost exactly like the Magnet release, but I think it would have been cool had Harold done the little echoes in the background.

It is incredible that Saved by the Bell sounds almost exactly the same as it did 35 years ago. Robin introduces a lot of the songs, giving a brief story and the title, then thanks the audience for their cheers. It is such a treat just to hear him sing nice and easy and old out those creaky notes. I never knew he was saying ‘heartbreak lane’ in the original!

Once again I wish the background singers would not sing on To Love Somebody. Their ooos and aaahhhs interrupt Robin’s lovely (if similar to other live renditions) performance. Robin slowly closes with a fading note and it sounds very beautiful-even reducing a fan to tears!

Robin introduces Words and tells the audience it’s a Barry song but he’ll try to tackle it. First off, I wonder of all the Robin songs to do, why is he doing a solo Barry song? I Started A Joke, anyone?! And secondly, why couldn’t Barry have been there? Robin does do a dang spiffy version of Words. My only trouble is with the back up singers taking over the ‘na na nan na’ part. Otherwise it would be a very interesting debate as to who tackles Words better.

Everyone gets to rocking with You Win Again. The guitar guy next to Robin sings along, and the real backup singers totally get in the groove. Robin starts out singing Win very strongly, but he doesn’t belt his oh baby! with as much power as the original. The back up girls also make the chorus a bit too high, but Robin looks like he having fun. The ending is also sharp.

I’ve always wondered why Robin never sings Juliet in falsetto like on its original Hoay release? Still, It’s nice when his singing is understandable. The lyrics and big booms and powerhouse are all here. On the DVD there is a slightly different ending to the track. The audience keeps singing along and the background singers do a small encore. Robin is just all beams about the fan response, perhaps the highlight of the night. Although I have to disagree with Robin saying the audience sings better. Um, no. Standout number three.

Tragedy is the longest track here. My non Gibb honey actually liked the original version, but said Robin’s delivery differed too much from Barry’s original falsetto. I known Robin can sing falsetto, so why do the back up girls always handle the high notes? Harold’s shreaks are a bit too Backstreet for me! I expected very big musical explosions but the pops were a bit weak. The ending does go to town though, and the string musicians really take a twirl with their violins!

Staunch a naysayer as I am, I enjoyed these closing renditions of Jive Talkin’ and Stayin’ Alive. All the competiting oddities I don’t like in the original versions are amended here with booming drums and sweet woodwinds. It is ironic to me, though, to end with these two songs. It seems there is a lot of jive going back and forth between Robin and Barry not getting along anymore, and if they aren’t getting along the group almost isn’t staying alive. Go fig.

As to the DVD there is a spiffy extra of Emotion. Over the end credits the orchestra plays Emotion, so I’m not really sure where it was in the original concert. It sound dang good though. Now, about the blonde background singer. I liked her voice and all, but I could go on about her diva in the making style for hours! The editors were smart not to give her any close ups. Besides her being very aware she’s on a world wide DVD, her death grip on the mike and her head bopping groove thing was just too over the top!

I do however like the percussion girl. She only smiles once near the beginning, but she is under a lot of stress. She’s got the salt and pepper shaker thing, bongos, congas, chimes, tambourine. What no triangle?! I had a good laugh when I did catch a triangle at the beginning of Words. Her and the Fabio guitar guy in the front need to get together.

It is all in good fun I notice these things about the orchestra. The video is edited very well. The cuts and split screens help carry over the feeling of a team. Robin may be the star but this entire production is made by the musicians. Props to the Conductor and his bald head. Pity we don’t find out who they are, or Harold’s last name!

In addition to Emotion, there are two five minute interviews with Robin in the Special Features section. One focuses on the Prebendal, and Robin gladly leads the camera through several areas of the grounds. He talks about the history, the chapel, and the gypsy wagon. To the Alice In Wonderland Garden! At the end he says he enjoyed the concert and hopes you watch it now. I guess he figured everybody would jump to the extras first! Robin also says he’ll see everyone next year. Hmm...

The second interview is about Robin delving into the songs. He mentions a few things about his style, the genesis of each song, and his musical inspirations. Props to his mention of Roy Orbinson! Robin also recounts the ‘Lights on Broadway’ story in quite humorous fashion. It’s like he just stops in his driveway and wants to talk about music! Robin share intimate details about all the classics, from Massachusetts to Staying Alive. The photo gallery, however, leaves a bit of something to be desired. The stills are somewhat dark and blurry and often times a picture of almost nothing. There are a few gems, if you’re willing to sit through the whole thing. Jiminy!

With this Live CD and DVD, Robin does make a go of keeping the music alive and just hearing an orchestra play Bee Gees songs is a treat and a half no less. However special it is to hear Gibb music in new ways, it is a bit sad that Barry didn’t participate and that the gap between these two genius brothers has grown since Maurice’s passing. I only hope the next live album we get will include both remaining Bee Gees. A Plus on the orchestra, B for one Bee Gee by default ;0)

Life in a Tin Can

Living in a Tin Can would Stink!
by Kristin Battestella

I’m not totally sure, but Life in a Tin Can must be the shortest Bee Gees album! With only 8 songs, this 1972 quickly forgotten release has little material to digest. Along with the unreleased follow up A Kick in the Head is Worth Eight in the Pants, Life is considered to be one chunk of not so good Gibb Material.

Saw a New Morning begins traditionally enough. The vocals and music are similar to To Whom it May Concern, but what are they talking about here? Is it a bar fight gone bad? A Jailbreak? Somehow a woman in involved? Maybe its just me, but singing along to silly lyrics that make no sense is always a plus ;0) Besides, the harmony is superb.

I Don’t Wanna Be The One starts off slow and with a Trafalgar feel. You’ll notice I’ve referred to two previous albums already. If any of these songs were mixed in with other albums maybe they wouldn’t seem as bad. However, a lot of things here seem a bit of a rehash. I like I Don’t Wanna Be The One though. It has that churchy gospel feel packed into a booming harmony chorus. The Harmony on Life is great as always, so again I mention the necessity of Maurice, even though he is without a lead vocal again.

South Dakota Morning is a bit of the same again. Even the titles are running together a bit. Didn’t we just see a new morning? And the next song takes place in Chicago? A nice little ditty- to go to sleep to. Living in Chicago is another head scratcher for me. Are they talking about being crazy? That where you live is just a state of mind? The harmony and trade off between Barry and Robin are great, but the story doesn’t make much sense, or not enough sense to stick with it. Especially for more than five minutes. This one goes on too long for me.

Wispy Barry starts off While I Play slowly. At first you almost sigh as if to say, how many slow songs can they do here? But the song picks up quickly. It’s touch of outback twang changes the pace and turns this into a sweet listen. Although I still have no clue what they are talking about.

Everything here is slightly different, but My Life Has Been a Song contains the same slow singer songwriter blah as the rest of Life. The echoes here are a bit much, and yet they still get stuck in my head! Maybe this is why the boys called the next album Kick, because you just want them to kick it up a notch! Just a notch! Please?

Come Home Johnny Bridie even has a confusing title. Sometimes the Bridie is listed as Birdie, I think. I’m not sure exactly what this story here is about either, but the chorus is such an up beat refresher on this album. It’s a nice twist to have the ‘bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks who is really good’ song be upbeat. This one sounds like a really good piece of country music.

Method to My Madness is the best track here. The other songs kind of have odd stories and great vocals, but the music is very mellow and sleepy. Madness however, has the booming music needed to keep the lyrics and voices interesting. The competition between Robin and the music here sounds like madness, but I guess there really is a method going. It worked for this song!

Life in A Tin Can was not a critical success, or a fan success for that matter. Perhaps everyone involved grew tired of the changing mellow and experiment styles the Brothers found themselves in. After Kick was deemed unrelease-able, the boys kicked things up and began the slow return to stardom with Mr. Natural and Main Course. Is Life in A Tin Can a good album? Probably not. Was it meant to be good? Probably not. The discovery of falsetto was just destiny! ;0)


Naturally I Must Do Bee Gees First!
by Kristin Battestella

Although 1967’s Bee Gees First is a fairly recent addition to my collection, anybody who knows anything about sixties music is bound to know at least a few tunes from this one. Besides having a bit of the heyday camp on the cover and in the music, First is also a bit of a tongue and cheek title to me. Barry, Robin, and Maurice had been plugging away at music in Australia before releasing this their ‘first English’ record.

Turn of the Century leads off the album in true and quirky fashion. At first all the talk of bicycles and time machines is a bit hokey, but the tune is so catchy. Soon enough you’ll be singing along.

Mood and melancholy however, make their first appearance on Holiday. Robin’s somber voice takes over and already you realize there is something deeper to this group. Of course nowadays everyone knows this one from the live versions and Maurice’s little side show antics.

Why do I find all these old songs and their lyrics so confusing? Red Chair Fade Away is too similar to other music of the time, which is odd to say on an artist’s first album. Most people do a few covers or use other’s songs on a primary release, but Barry, Robin, and Maurice prove here they are more than a passing invasion band. Oh yeah!

Outside of the few monsters on this CD, One Minute Woman might be my favorite. It is quite underrated in my opinion. Barry’s easy delivery and nearly begging lyrics sold me on the first listen.

In My Own Time is touch and go with me. I like it, but the tone and vocals are a bit too Beatle imitation for me. I like my Bee Gees as The Bee Gees. I’ve heard fifty other songs that sound like Time. Are they catchy? Sure. Unique? No. Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You is unique. The first time I heard this on record I was all over the spectrum. It’s so moody and churchy and chant-like, but the chorus is almost happy. Every listen gets my wheels churning. What are they saying? Who cares it sounds cool!

Quirky Craise Finton Kirk Royal Academy of Arts is the first all Robin song presented. Already on this album we witness the duel leads of Barry and Robin. Eleven of the songs here are also credited to only Barry and Robin, including all the biggies. Kirk again has an ambiguous story almost like poetry. Everyone can read something different, and I love the toy piano like stops and starts. Very nice indeed.

When the boys penned New York Mining Disaster 1941 in a jammed elevator in England, do you think they knew what a classic it would become? If casual fans tell me they like “Have you see my wife Mr. Jones?” I always get a great chuckle. Again people know more Bee Gees songs then they realize-and not from the Brothers ‘height’ in 1977. This is 10 years prior! Disaster represents the early genius of the brothers in lyrics, story, mood, music, and hooks.

Besides the fact that the song Cucumber Castle is not on the later album entitled Cucumber Castle , this oddity gets points again for being like nothing else heard before. Who else can put medieval touches into sixties pop? The one seemingly understandable line “Cucumber Castle be ever so humble,” is so contradictory. A castle? Where kings live? How can that be humble? It makes you curious for another listen.

If you don’t like To Love Somebody, come closer so I can hit you. This has to be one of the classics. One of the penne ultimate Gibb songs. None of that Fever stuff. To Love Somebody says all the love in just the right way. The proof of musical genius here is evident. (We also reviewed Somebody, Disaster, and I Can’t See Nobody on our Gold review.)

I like Barry’s delivery in I Close My Eyes, but some of the twists are again a bit too Beatle for me. Actually there isn’t much else to say about this song! Pity. Oh yes I Can’t See Nobody! My niece digs this one. When I first heard it I thought it was Maurice, but Robin switches styles-showing early on his unique range. The lyrics here are also telling. When you are falling in or out of a relationship, the other person is everything, you truly are unaware of everything else. Robin’s creaky ups and downs show the heartache, yet the rhythm of the music describe the heights you can feel. Wow.

Please Read Me sounds a lot like the early Australian tunes the boys did. The sweet harmony dominating here is the early bloom of what was to come, even if it is a bit short on words. You can’t have it all on your first album! The fourteenth and final track Close Another Door starts off slowly. Robin showcases himself again near the end. Door picks up to an easy pace and bookends well with Turn of the Century. Pity on anyone who listens to the first and last song of an album. Look at all the good stuff in between!

First is a unique album in every sense of the word. It’s really something special to go back and see classic Gibb music even then, and don’t forget several gems here were very ground breaking at the time. To the fans that have been here since the beginning, I tip my hat to you!

09 April 2008


Superbad Actually Pretty Good
By Kristin Battestella

You have to be in the right mood for the gross out over sexed teen comedy genre. I wasn’t quite feeling our viewing of the 2007 comedy Superbad, but Greg Mottola’s (Arrested Development) little film about three teens looking for alcohol and sex was actually smart, witty, and hysterical all at the same time.
Now that their senior year is coming to an end Seth (Jonah Hill, Knocked Up) and Evan (Michael Cera, Juno) want to take things out with a bang- including sex! Beer! And more sex! Jules (Emma Stone, Drive) has invited Jonah to a graduation party and asked him to bring the alcohol, so Seth and Evan use their friend Fogell’s (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) fake ID to make the buy. Unfortunately, a Hawaiian ID that says “McLovin” screams fake. Will the boys score it all or will the night end in disaster?
It would be an injustice to give away all the twists and turns that make Superbad so good. Penned by Forty Year Old Virgin alumni Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, Superbad goes from one crutch to another, with each preposterous turn growing in hysteria as the film progresses. Strangely, Superbad has no nudity to speak of-and even the sex scenes are subdued when it finally gets to the sex. But of course, the foul language, sexual euphemisms, and naughty innuendoes definitely put Superbad on the not for kids list. Sure there’s been more perverted flicks-American Pie and the classic Porky’s- but Superbad is more for post teens remembering the high jinks of the good old days.
Superbad (Unrated Widescreen Edition)Superbad hails no recognizable cast members, yet they are all recent up and coming folks. This works for this type of film. Our teen trio knows they aren’t the jocks or the prom kings, but they don’t realize what losers they really are. Jonah Hill is perfect as the selfish Seth who could get the hottie if he used his wit, but instead falls into drunken absurdity. Likewise Michael Cera’s Evan is the smart nice guy who may be too nice, and Plasse as Fogell is of course the nerd who has the crazy side. Despite their ages, all look like contemporary teens struggling to make it up from the bottom of the barrel. I must also mention Bill Hader and co writer Seth Rogen as the cops on the boys’ trail. Their incompetence and humor is both ridiculous and realistic if that’s possible.

The stunts, parties, and car chases in Superbad look on form as well, but the surprises in the film come from its intelligent and honest script. What will Seth and Evan do once college comes along to split them up? Can they survive life without each other? Read homoerotic subtext if you like, but gay topics don’t come into play in Superbad. It’s not easy for two guys to admit they are a significant part of each other’s lives. The awkwardness, the camaraderie, and the anxiety of taking that next big step are all handled superbly by Mottola, the witty writing team, and the budding cast. It’s not easy to find a teen comedy that can pull off the serious stuff. It can come off as hokey, corny, or misplaced, but Superbad finds the perfect balance between sex romp and coming of age.
Superbad is, of course, not for everyone. Prudes, kids, or any other folks who are not used to the f bomb every other word should skip this one. The unrated version with more of all that is the way to go! The DVD has all the standards, and the subtitles are essential to catch all the jokes and wit. Two hours of honest, funny, teen hysteria should make Superbad your next movie purchase.

The Crossing

Small Scale Doesn’t Hurt The Crossing
By Kristin Battestella

A&E doesn’t make films like they used to. 2000’s The Crossing is a fine piece of education production, made smartly and properly like those of old. Unfortunately, the small scale of the film almost undoes the show.
Most Americans-and especially us folk from New Jersey-know the story: Christmas, 1776. George Washington (Jeff Daniels) crosses the frozen Delaware River and attacks the Hessians in Trenton. The victory turns the tide of the American Revolution, and we thank Washington very much.
Although Jeff Daniels is stellar as another American War hero Joshua Chamberlain in Gettysburg, he is perfectly cast here. Daniels portrays the respect and power Washington already earned, but shows the doubt and weight of the Revolution on the modest farmer. Most of the rest of the cast is unknown, but each look the period part-powdered wigs and proper uniforms. Stephen McCarthy (The Skulls) as a young Alexander Hamilton has the next most prominent role, along with Sebastian Roche (Beowulf) as Colonel John Glover. The dialogue is just right, and I suspect writer Howard Fast and director Robert Harmon considered the numerous period documents and writings of Washington for the film along with Fast’s historical
source novel.

The Crossing

As darling as it is to see so thoroughly a New Jersey show, The Crossing showcases the Trenton of old. Naturally, we don’t have old fashioned barracks and untouched shores anymore. It’s sad to say but The Crossing was probably not filmed here-indeed it was Canada! The buildings and fortifications look authentic, but seem small in scale. Granted this was not a huge battle in numbers or battle scope per se, but today we are spoiled by big effects and the like.
In addition to the fine costumes and individually looks of the American Generals and the Hessians, The Crossing does fine work with period lighting. We take lighting for granted in films today, but the team here makes everything look like candlelight. You can still see the nighttime or indoor scenes just fine, but this subtle authenticity is a lovely piece of the movie.

The one strike against The Crossing is the made for television scale, but A&E did a fine job in keeping with its Classroom programs. There’s plenty of battle action, but little violence and gore. History teachers have struck gold when showing the Emmy winning The Crossing in schools.
Historians, period piece fans, and Jersey enthusiasts can watch The Crossing again and again. All the important details are just right, so if it seems small or dated-just remember it’s supposed to be that way. Look for the DVD and add it to your historical library.